Peek Inside: Sunova Credit Union’s Marketing Department

In 2008, one of Canada’s larger credit unions, South Interlake in Manitoba, changed names and become Sunova. The credit union uses one of the most unique branding tools you’ve ever seen in the financial industry: dogs. As in real ones… in their branches. Sunova has a team of St. Bernard’s (one shown above) deployed at their locations. Here’s a look at what else the credit union has cooking in the marketing department.

Assets: $809 million
Area served: Rural Manitoba & Winnipeg, Canada

URL for blog: Bark Brighter
URL for Twitter account: @BarkBrighter
URL for YouTube channel:
URL for Facebook page:

Number of members: 27,035

Number of branches: 12
Members per branch: 2,253

Number of total employees: 200
Ratio of customers to employees: 135:1

Number of campaigns run every year: 4+ major campaigns

Top marketing executive: Vanessa Foster – Director, Marketing
Number of employees in marketing department:
Three (1.5% of total workforce)

  • 1 Marketing Director
  • 1 Senior Graphic Designer
  • 1 Marketing Coordinator

Pictured left to right: Marnie Stewart, Senior Graphic Designer; Alexandra Rachey, Marketing Coordinator; Vanessa Foster, Marketing Director.

Systems & Tools

Have Now Don’t Have Not Yet,
But Plan To
Formal written marketing plan X
Brand standards manual (addressing design) X
Brand guidelines book (for staff) X
CRM system X
MCIF system X
Onboarding program X
Matrix mail program X
Social media strategy X
In-branch video merchandising system X
Formal SEO strategy X

In-House vs. Vendor

In-House Vendor Both
Advertising X
Design X
Media buying X
Direct mail X
Email marketing X
Web design/development X
Online advertising/marketing X
Social media X
Promotional items, giveaways X
Sales collateral, brochures X
Public relations X
Community relations/events X

Social Media Strategy

We are just starting to get into social media. We’ve made a conscious decision not to introduce social media elements just for the sake of having them. We know that if we’re going to spend the time on a Facebook page, Twitter, etc., it has to offer some value for our members and potential members and simply repeating member messages over those channels isn’t good enough.

We’re in the middle of creating a new website and once that launches, we’ll be taking a closer look at social media and how we can incorporate different elements into our marketing plan.

Currently, we have one Twitter account which links to a blog that features photos of our D.O.Gs. That launched not long ago, and we’re just starting to focus on generating more traffic to the site. We also have a YouTube channel which includes a few Sunova videos, however, we haven’t actively used or promoted it.

To sum up our thoughts on social media — if we do it, we want to do it right, and offer a unique twist to our messaging that will encourage more than just a few ‘Likes.’ If and when we do it, we want it to be as unique as the Sunova brand and encourage our members to interact with us online.


SUNOVA SHOP – The credit union partnered with Clear eTail to create an online e-Store. The shop is exclusively for members, so only they know what schwag, garb and other goodies lurk within.

Marketing Channels Deployed

Using Now Don’t Use Not Yet,
But Plan To
Direct mail X
Print ads X
TV ads X
Radio ads X
Billboards/outdoor X
Ads within online banking/bill pay X
Paid banner ad placements X
Search engine marketing (e.g., Adwords) X
Microsites X
Email marketing X
eStatement ads X
QR codes X
Facebook X
Twitter X
YouTube X
LinkedIn X
Foursquare X
Blog X
Online forum X

Favorite Campaign

We have a long list to choose from, but my personal favorite campaign was our rebrand in May 2008. That’s when we introduced our new brand and name, Sunova. After working with a committee of employees, our marketing department led the name change strategy from initial name, to logo development and member launch. We incorporated a number of marketing initiatives into the launch of the new brand including:

  • an internal launch for our management team and all staff (the “Sunova Soiree & Spark Gala”)
  • a new logo and visual identity guidelines
  • a member direct mail piece introducing the changes
  • a series of teaser ads to generate curiosity prior to the launch
  • in-branch and community advertising

In a nutshell, the creation of the Sunova brand resulted in taking all of the best things about our organization and repackaging them in a much more modern and appealing way. After the launch, the roots of our organization were still there, but the advertising and user experience better reflected what we were all about.

The Biggest Challenges Over the Next 12-24 Months

Sunova has experienced much growth over the last year with the introduction of three new branches featuring a unique banking model unlike anything in the Manitoba market today. One of our biggest challenges over the next two years will be marketing those new branches (in brand new markets to us) and encouraging bank customers to make the switch to Sunova.

As an in-house department, it’s often a challenge to balance our annual marketing plan with requests from branches and departments — we have to be as flexible as possible and provide superior service to our customers (branches), while at the same time focusing on the big picture of developing and promoting the Sunova brand.

Critical Products to Market This Year

Over the next year, our major campaigns will focus on promoting our lending services as well as the benefits of membership with Sunova. As usual, we’ll also very much focus on our differentiating factors like our D.O.Gs and our new banking model (pod-style banking seven days a week).

How Do You Track Marketing ROI?

Together with our IT Department, we track results for our marketing campaigns so we can determine how successful our efforts have been. Through a variety of reporting methods, we can identify what results and growth is a result of our advertising and marketing strategies. In addition, we also coordinate member- and market research on a regular basis to measure brand awareness. Moving forward, we’re continually challenging ourselves and our branches to measure results, where possible, for our marketing investments.

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